The Winding Stair

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
  Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
  Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
  Upon the breathless starlit air,
  'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
  Fix every wandering thought upon
  That quarter where all thought is done:
  Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

My Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees
  Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was,
  Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass
  Unspotted by the centuries;
  That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn
  From some court-lady's dress and round
  The wodden scabbard bound and wound
  Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

My Soul. Why should the imagination of a man
  Long past his prime remember things that are
  Emblematical of love and war?
  Think of ancestral night that can,
  If but imagination scorn the earth
  And intellect is wandering
  To this and that and t'other thing,
  Deliver from the crime of death and birth.

My Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it
  Five hundred years ago, about it lie
  Flowers from I know not what embroidery -
  Heart's purple - and all these I set
  For emblems of the day against the tower
  Emblematical of the night,
  And claim as by a soldier's right
  A charter to commit the crime once more.

My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows
  And falls into the basin of the mind
  That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,
  For intellect no longer knows
  Is from the Ought, or knower from the Known -
  That is to say, ascends to Heaven;
  Only the dead can be forgiven;
  But when I think of that my tongue's a stone.

II

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.
  What matter if the ditches are impure?
  What matter if I live it all once more?
  Endure that toil of growing up;
  The ignominy of boyhood; the distress
  Of boyhood changing into man;
  The unfinished man and his pain
  Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

  The finished man among his enemies? -
  How in the name of Heaven can he escape
  That defiling and disfigured shape
  The mirror of malicious eyes
  Casts upon his eyes until at last
  He thinks that shape must be his shape?
  And what's the good of an escape
  If honour find him in the wintry blast?

  I am content to live it all again
  And yet again, if it be life to pitch
  Into the frog-spawn of a blind man's ditch,
  A blind man battering blind men;
  Or into that most fecund ditch of all,
  The folly that man does
  Or must suffer, if he woos
  A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

  I am content to follow to its source
  Every event in action or in thought;
  Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
  When such as I cast out remorse
  So great a sweetness flows into the breast
  We must laugh and we must sing,
  We are blest by everything,
  Everything we look upon is blest.

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William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. more…

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"The Winding Stair" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/39574/the-winding-stair>.

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